The city administration’s plans to put a stop to monkeys performances in the capital has caused a stir among buskers and owners of the animals who rely on the practice as a source of income.
“The government said they would give us jobs. But what kind of jobs, and how much will the salary be? That part is still not clear,” Sukarya, 31-year-old busker said at his home in East Jakarta.
Sukarya said he would willingly leave behind his profession as a monkey busker, which has been his calling for the past 18 years, and hand over his pet monkey to officials if the city government was prepared to give him a new job.
He emphasized that the job would also have to fulfill his family’s need for food and daily necessities.
“The work can be anything, as long as it is permanent and is enough to support my family. In that case, the government can buy my monkey for whatever amount of money they see fit,” he said, adding he had bought a trained monkey for Rp 1.5 million ($134).
Sukarya currently makes daily rounds in the Blok M and Senayan areas of South Jakarta. Other days, he walks from one kampung to another to find audiences to watch his monkey perform.
Sukarya earns between Rp 50,000 and Rp 70,000 for his monkey’s work each day, which he says he uses to support his wife and two children now in elementary school, as well feed his monkey.
“I divide my income between the family’s food, my children’s tuition, my rent and food for my monkey,” he said.
Another performing monkey busker echoed Sukarya’s concerns, saying he was prepared to resist Governor Joko Widodo’s policy should the government move to take away his monkey without first finding him a new job.
Ling, who dropped out of school in the second grade, said he had tried different jobs, but monkey busking was the last line of work which he deemed sufficient to support his family.
“I used to work at a wholesale market in Cipinang in East Jakarta. I have tried several other types of work after that, but it isn’t easy to find a job in Jakarta. If this monkey is taken away, we lose our jobs,” he said.
“We demand a new job in exchange, but what job is there that would suit someone like me, someone with a family who only went to school until the second grade?”
To start his monkey performance business, Ling said he had to save up to Rp 3 million to buy a trained monkey in Kampung Dukuh, East Jakarta, and accessories for performances.
“I have spent decades trying to train monkeys to no avail,” he said.
Ling said there were more than 700 people in East Jakarta whose livelihoods depended on monkey labor, most of whom used to reside at Gembrong Market, but had since been relocated by the city.
“Many are now scattered [around the city], but they still work as monkey buskers. And those are just in the East Jakarta area. There are others in other areas of the city,” he said.
Ling has been working as a monkey busker for over a decade, and says the work was not as easy as it looks. He said people he met along the way would sometimes be abusive toward Ling and his monkey, Saritem.
However, tough competition for jobs in the capital pushed him to settle with his current profession, which is roundly condemned as animal abuse.
Governor Joko Widodo announced plans over the weekend to eliminate monkey performances from the city by 2014, but did not elaborate on plans for the monkeys or their owners.
“We will take care of the buskers after [buying back the monkeys]. It should be done one by one, because most of them are not citizens of Jakarta,” Joko told reporters at the City Hall on Monday.
The governor said the administration would offer vocational training for the buskers without further elaborating.
On Tuesday, efforts to curb masked monkey performances began in several areas.
Ipih Ruyani, head of the city’s marine and agriculture office, said that as of Tuesday morning, his team had found two buskers, as reported by Tempo.co.
“The places where they would usually be seen have suddenly become empty. We should look into the slums,” he said.
Ipih said confusion and fear among the buskers was understandable. He emphasized that the government would be paying them for their monkeys.
The method by which buskers train their monkeys is very cruel. Their teeth are cut. They are trained by starvation and forced to work very hard.Femke den Haas, Jakarta Animal Aid Network
“We will give Rp 1 million to be used as capital for their business,” Ipih said, as quoted by Tempo.co on Tuesday. He added that the monkeys they seized would first be sent to the animal health center for medical treatment.
“After they are [declared] free from diseases and rabies, we will move them to Ragunan Zoo.”
Animal rights organizations have lauded the governor’s plan.
“The method by which buskers train their monkeys is very cruel,” Femke den Haas, wild animal protection coordinator with the Jakarta animal Aid Network, said as quoted by Liputan6.com.
“The monkeys are forced to work. Their teeth are cut. They are trained by starvation and forced to work very hard. They must be experiencing heavy trauma.”
Den Haas backed the government’s policy, saying the animals could become part of an education program for the public.
“The public, especially children, will understand that the monkeys used to be exploited, forced to work and dance. ”
She said there had been an increasing number of monkey performers since 2009, reaching 300 in 2012.
Shows involving a masked monkey, known in local parlance as topeng monyet , derive from an Indonesian tradition of a perambulatory small circus troupe also consisting of a dog, snake and a master.
Fiorello La Guardia, a former mayor of New York, famously outlawed monkey buskers — known as organ grinders — in the city in 1936, after being frequently mocked for a mustache resembling that stereotypical of the performers, themselves targets of anti-Italian prejudice.
Officials from Jakarta’s agriculture agency stop a busker and his indentured monkey performer on Jalan Ahmad Yani in East Jakarta on Tuesday. Jakarta’s governor says the animals are a health hazard. JG Photo/Safir Makki